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Animation in the NFTVA

This month we are defining the collection at The National Film & Television Archive in the United Kingdom. Founded in 1936, the NFTVA has an expansive collection of British animation available for investigation.

The NFTVA is The National Film & Television Archive in the United Kingdom. The archive was founded in 1936 with the mission "to maintain a national repository of films of permanent value." This expansive collection can seem a little daunting. However, this guide will clarify the collections and make using their animation and animation-related resources easy.

Film Vaults at the The J. Paul Getty Conservation Centre, National Film and Television Archive (NFTVA), British Film Institute (BFI). Photo courtesy of the BFI.

The Television Collection

Animation made for television is not the subject of a specific acquisitions gallery but exists in the Archive's collection as part of the overall television holdings.

Traditionally, animation for television has been particularly associated with children's programming. Even Wallace And Gromit is scheduled to attract a young audience. In recent years, though, adult-oriented animation, such as the work of Jan Svankmajer and the Brothers Quay has found an outlet on Channel 4, particularly in the late-night slot, Fourmations. This is interesting because much of the contents of this series is material not originally intended for, or commissioned by television, though there are also documentaries on animators made specifically for television that are included.

The Archive acquires materials in two ways - by recording off-air to preservation standard and by donation of material from the television companies. The former method applies to British commercial television and has operated since 1985, being funded by the companies themselves through statutory provision. About 25% of ITV, 20% of Channel 4 and 15% of Channel 5 are recorded. The ITV recordings include regular examples of children's programs, including animation and the Channel 4 recordings include all of Fourmations. Regular recordings of complete days of output also capture examples of animation, both in children's slots and in late-night transmissions such as Beavis and Butt-head. Acquisition by donation, from all television companies including the BBC, ensures the addition of "classic" children's animation, such as the Watch With Mother programs. Particularly, well represented are the works of Cosgrove Hall, which was associated with Thames Television. This material was acquired by both recording and donation. The General Animation Collection The NFTVA gives priority to the acquisition of British material and, while including numerous American, European and other productions, the collection is primarily weighted toward British product. In addition to the Television Acquisitions section, there are two other sections - Features and Documentary. Both of these sections acquire material for the Archive from corporate and individual donors, and both may seek out or be offered animated films. The archive holds roughly 2,000 animated titles of one kind or another. Throughout film history, British animation has been used not just to entertain children, but to educate, to instruct and to sell. Consequently, the collection includes numerous public health films, political propaganda films, advertising films, and so on, made for both cinema and television formats, as well as what is generally referred to as cartoons. Many of these films have been acquired in their original film form, though acquisition by direct recording from television (as described above) means that, increasingly, productions are held only on videotape and in the versions in which they were transmitted.

Access to the Collection There is currently no separate listing of the NFTVA's animation collection, though it is possible to search our holdings by title and by the name of animators and/or directors. Archive staff are happy to assist in this. Because of the essential priority given to the Archive's preservation function, access can only be provided to films for which the NFTVA holds material additional to its preservation masters. While 100% of the productions acquired through direct recording are available (generally, therefore, films made in the last ten or fifteen years), the percentage is much lower for the rest of the collection. Part of the problem here is the cost of duplicating successive frame Technicolor originals and other color systems, though the quality of new prints produced is extremely high. If the researcher is prepared to wait, arrangements can usually be made to copy material in order to produce access copies. Research and study access to the Archive's collection is organized by the NFTVA's Research Viewings section, with viewings taking place at the British Film Institute's premises at 21 Stephen Street, London. The pressure on viewing facilities is such that there is often a waiting period of two to three weeks, so appointments are essential. Viewing fees are currently £10.00 plus VAT per hour for researchers and £5.00 plus VAT for students. Loans for off-premises uses or any use of extracts in new productions can be arranged through BFI Films (see below). In most cases, the potential user will have to obtain permission from copyright owners before material can be released. BFI Films The British Film Institute's BFI Films division includes the section formerly known as BFI Film & Video Distribution, which controls films for which the BFI owns (usually) UK distribution rights. There is a catalogue (1994) of the 500 or so animated titles available from BFI Films. BFI Films is now providing access to titles in the NFTVA collection for off-premises use, such as screenings at festivals. Contacts The National Film & Television Archive (a Division of the British Film Institute), 21 Stephen Street, London W1P 2LN. Telephone 0171.255.1444. Fax 0171.580.7503. For general information on the Archive's holdings, contact the Cataloguing section; via e-mail, use To make research or study access arrangements, contact the Research Viewings section; via e-mail, use BFI Films (a Division of the British Film Institute), 21 Stephen Street, London W1P 2LN. Telephone 0171.255.1444. Fax 0171.580.5830. For information on BFI Films holdings or a catalogue, contact their Research and Information section on direct phone 0171.957.8909; via e-mail, use To book BFI Films titles, use the Bookings section's direct telephone line 0171.957.8951; via e-mail for either purpose, use For extract use, contact Archival Footage Sales on direct telephone line 0171.957.8934; via e-mail, use Steve Bryant is Keeper of Television for the NFTVA. Elaine Burrows is in charge of preserving animation for NFTVA.